A vitamin C serum is a cosmetic product that uses the powerful antioxidant properties of vitamin C to protect your skin from oxidative damage and to heal damage that’s already occurred.
Much of the problems that we associate with natural aging of the skin, like wrinkles, sagging, and splotching, aren’t caused just by aging—they’re the result of free radicals, usually caused by exposure to ultraviolet sunlight, creating oxidative damage in the skin.
A good vitamin C serum may be able to protect your skin from this kind of damage and reverse some of the damage that’s already occurred. Our researchers have examined and ranked the best vitamin C serums on the market to come up with these ten.
1. TruSkin Naturals C
TruSkin Naturals strikes a good balance between preventing oxidative damage to your skin and repairing damaged skin tissue. The vitamin C content is excellent, at 20%.
In fact, it’s so high you might want to work your way up, only applying it every few days at first. The free radical scavenging of vitamin C is balanced out by hyaluronic acid, which helps repair the collagen that gives your skin its elasticity.
When skin loses this, it becomes loose and wrinkly. With this well-crafted balance, TruSkin Naturals C is our top choice.
2. LilyAna Naturals Vitamin C Serum
LilyAna Naturals Vitamin C Serum is an excellent choice if you care about ingredients that are sourced only from natural plant materials.
This vitamin C serum includes plant-derived hyaluronic acid for collagen health, aloe leaf juice to soothe dry or damaged skin, and several herbal extracts to improve skin condition.
The great thing about LilyAna Naturals Vitamin C Serum is that it’s still potent—at 20% vitamin C, it’s not lacking in antioxidant power.
The only people who might not want to use this serum are people who have allergy-prone skin, as the herbal extracts, which are useful for most people, could aggravate especially sensitive skin.
3. Skinceuticals C E Ferulic
Skinceuticals makes a vitamin C serum that’s very highly-regarded as one of the highest quality serums on the market thanks to the combined antioxidant action of vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid.
This makes it very good at preventing oxidative damage to skin. Its focus is attacking free radicals before they do any damage, and it does that job very well.
4. Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
Mad Hippie keeps it pretty simple, with vitamin C, konjac powder, hyaluronic acid, and a couple of herbal ingredients to balance out the mix.
The ingredients are all-natural, vegan, and cruelty-free; just like you’d expect from this brand. Mad Hippie is one of the best brands if other vitamin C serums leave your skin irritated, because it keeps the extra plant extracts to a minimum.
5. Tree of Life Beauty Vitamin C Serum
Tree of Life Beauty Vitamin C Serum pairs vitamin C with the collagen-repairing agent MSM for all-around skin health. There’s a good range of herbal ingredients, so people with sensitive skin might not do well, in theory at least.
In practice, users rate this as one of the smoothest and easy-to-use vitamin C serum, regardless of what your skin type is.
6. Claire-ity Vitamin C Serum
Claire-ity is a particularly potent vitamin C serum. It’s fully one-quarter vitamin C (25%), making it stronger than many of the other vitamin C serums on the market.
People who have sensitive skin, or who haven’t used a vitamin C serum before, may get red or irritated skin from this vitamin C serum, but for people who need a lot of antioxidant power to protect or heal damaged skin, it’s a solid pick.
7. Amara Organics Vitamin C Serum
Amara Organics uses a number of advanced compounds like MSM and amino acid metabolites that are designed to aid collagen repair.
Its vitamin C content is solid, at 20%, and its potency is amplified by vitamin E. It’s a good middle of the road pick, as it’s neither super-potent nor dilute, and doesn’t have a huge number of herbal extracts included.
8. InstaNatural Vitamin C Serum
InstaNatural combines vitamin C with witch hazel for additional skin soothing. In addition to witch hazel, this serum has a large number of herbal extracts added, but the list is so long that it starts to increase the probability of an adverse skin reaction if you’ve got sensitive skin. Despite this drawback, it’s a popular and versatile vitamin C serum.
9. Pure Biology Vitamin C Plus Anti-Aging Serum
Pure Biology makes a super-concentrated vitamin C serum (30%), and combines this with the collagen repairing compound hyaluronic acid.
While some users love this super concentrated formulation, the very high dose of vitamin C serum is likely to cause skin irritation if you aren’t used to vitamin C serums.
People who know they have sensitive skin should probably avoid this entirely, but it does fill a niche spot on the market for a high dose vitamin C serum.
10. ArtNaturals Vitamin C Serum
ArtNaturals Vitamin C Serum has been a perennial top-seller, but a recent change in its formulation has many of its users scratching their heads.
People who used to use this vitamin C serum with no problems are complaining about a cloudy, greasy solution that causes redness and skin irritation.
While the original formulation was pretty good, it might be better to wait while ArtNaturals sorts things out.
Vitamin C serum benefits and side effects
The antioxidant powers of vitamin C are better known from its use as a dietary supplement, but it can be used to exert a powerful antioxidant effect on your skin, too.
Oxidative damage isn’t just something that causes chronic disease and aging inside your body: exposure to the elements (especially ultraviolet light from the sun) causes free radicals to be created in your skin, which in turn cause oxidative damage.
Vitamin C serum is a proven oxidation fighter, and it can be successfully employed in a skincare routine to help heal and prevent damage, splotching, and aging.
Vitamin C serum can protect your skin from damage caused by ultraviolet light. By far the biggest cause of aged skin is exposure to sunlight.
While sunburn is a widely recognized cause of aging, simply being exposed to normal amounts of sun is another way to accumulate skin damage. While using a sunscreen or BB cream can go a long ways towards protecting your skin from ultraviolet light from the sun, there’s only so much you can do with a sunscreen.
Ideally you’d be able to both protect your skin and heal damage that’s already been caused. That’s where vitamin C comes in. Research on animal skin has definitively shown that vitamin C serums can help your skin avoid damage from ultraviolet light.
A study published in the British Journal of Dermatology by researchers at Duke University found that ultraviolet light damage strongly depletes your reserves of vitamin C in your skin, and that low levels of vitamin C cause a slowdown in your skin’s natural healing capabilities (1).
Further, the researchers showed that direct application of vitamin C to pig skin was able to reduce the damage suffered as an effect of exposure to ultraviolet light.
Vitamin C serum can increase the rate of collagen synthesis in your skin. Collagen is the protein that gives your skin its elasticity. When your collagen goes, so does your youthful skin.
The details of how this works are immensely complicated—a number of enzymes that are involved in the synthesis of collagen depend on vitamin C to work properly.
When vitamin C levels are low (as they often are when you are exposed to a lot of sunlight, as we saw earlier), your rate of collagen synthesis slows down.
Research published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology by a team of scientists in Belgium found that increasing the concentration of vitamin C in skin cells on the upper forearm of older women resulted in a significant boost in collagen synthesis (2).
Interestingly, vitamin C serum had the strongest effect on the women who had the lowest blood levels of vitamin C, suggesting that that a connection exists between dietary vitamin C and skin health.
Vitamin C serum works well in combination with vitamin E to prevent skin damage. Another compound that’s better known for its dietary uses is vitamin E: it’s a strong antioxidant as well, so it might not be that surprising to find out that it also works to protect skin from damage.
Scientific research published by researchers in the journal Acta Dermato-Venereologica demonstrated the efficacy of vitamin E combined with a vitamin C serum (3).
In an animal model of skin, the researchers demonstrated that vitamin E and vitamin C work synergistically to fight skin damage from the sun.
Damaged caused by UV type A radiation is prevented by vitamin C, while damage caused by UV type B radiation is prevented by vitamin E.
If protecting your skin from the sun is one of your top priorities in a vitamin C serum, you should definitely look for a vitamin C serum that include vitamin E as well.
Vitamin C serum can heal skin damage as well as prevent it. The benefits of vitamin C on skin that’s already been damaged was demonstrated in a clinical trial published in the journal Dermatologic Surgery (4).
In it, researchers used an ingenious design to prevent bias: all of the subjects were given two bottles of serum. One was a genuine vitamin C serum, while the other was just a liquid with no vitamin C included.
The subjects applied the solution to one bottle to the left half of their face, and the solution from the other bottle to the right half of their face.
Neither the subjects nor the researchers evaluating them were told which bottle contained the real vitamin C serum.
After 12 weeks, the same researchers rated the photoaging of the skin of all of the subjects. The results showed a significant improvement in skin aging on the treated side compared to the untreated side, demonstrating that vitamin C is a very useful addition to any anti-aging cosmetic routine.
Vitamin C is used in a huge number of industrial processes, so its safety has been rigorously investigated. A summary of findings was published in 2005 in the International Journal of Toxicology (5).
The report concluded that vitamin C is an exceedingly safe ingredient, and placed no restrictions on its use in cosmetics.
The report did note that some products with vitamin C in them could act as skin irritants or toxins as a result of other compounds—mostly heavy metal contaminants.
At high concentrations, some users find that a vitamin C serum causes their skin to break out, although it’s often hard to tell whether vitamin C itself caused the breakout, because many vitamin C serum brands have at least a handful of herbal extracts from plant materials, which are often a cause of irritation in sensitive skin.
Most clinical trials into the use of vitamin C for treating skin aging, splotching, or oxidative damage from ultraviolet light uses vitamin C serums ranging from 10-20%. Most people apply too much—clinical trials usually call for subjects to apply three drops to their face every day.
Especially when vitamin C is delivered in a high dosage, a little goes a long way. While using too much isn’t likely to cause any side effects, it’ll make you go through your serum a lot faster than you should.
Vitamin C serum is one of the cosmetics with the best scientific track record behind it. Its powerful antioxidant effects help prevent damage from sunlight, especially when combined with vitamin E.
Further, vitamin C actually increases the rate of collagen synthesis in your skin cells, helping your skin stay softer, stretchier, and younger.
It even works to reverse damage to your skin when applied on a regular basis. Any serum with a vitamin C concentration of at least 10% is likely to be successful, and it’s a very safe and well-tolerated cosmetic.
Plus, it only takes a few drops to get the intended effects. If you find your skin irritated, you can try a lower dosage, but the irritation might be caused by a different ingredient in your vitamin C serum, so you might want to try a different brand instead.
With such strong scientific support, vitamin C is a very versatile and user-friendly way to help protect and heal your skin.